Now in his fourth season, the Nationals star is living up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon him six years ago.
Prior to the start of the 2015 season, ESPN conducted their annual spring training survey of 117 anonymous major league ballplayers.
For the second straight year, the survey concluded that Bryce Harper was the most overrated player in the game, at least in the eyes of 41 percent of the players polled. The slugger finished ahead of Yasiel Puig, who came in second place for the second consecutive year after tallying up 15 percent of the votes.
“The attention for him is overkill,” one American League All-Star who remains nameless to this day said of Harper in the 2014 survey. “It’s just been hype so far.”
Fast forward less than two months into the current big league season and it appears that all of those players could not have been more wrong. Harper is performing at level where he is clearly one of the best baseball has to offer, and for that any player that suggested he was overrated owes him a personal apology.
Actually, scratch the apology. Instead, opponents should be begging for mercy from Harper. He is the hottest player in baseball right now an while yes, it is only May, is making the NL MVP debate an early one-horse race.
Just look at the numbers Harper is putting up. According to Baseball Reference, he leads the majors in WAR (3.7), OBP (.472), slugging (.732), OPS (1.203), runs scored (37), RBI (38), walks (37), OPS+ (223), runs created (49) and times on base (83). My goodness that is a long list.
On top of all of that, Harper also has a .333 average, 15 homers, 101 total bases and 24 extra base hits. Keep in mind, his career highs in homers and runs driven in are 22 and 59, respectively.
What has been really impressive about Harper this year is not the big-time power numbers or just generally electric play. Instead, it has been his ability to slow things down and remain collected, both with his performance and in his other actions.
At the plate, Harper is already just one walk away from reaching his season total from 2014. He is working counts, staying patient and making pitchers pay nearly every time they make a mistake.
As for his actions, we have yet to see the boisterous and at-times controversial Harper we have seen in the past. Sure, he is still the edgy, vibrant and somewhat cocky ballplayer the game has gotten to know these last few years, but all of that is what makes Harper who he is. Yet, there have been no red flags signaling immaturity or conflicts with coaches and opponents like there has been in the past. Granted, he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes on Wednesday, but so have most of the fiery competitors throughout the years.
To sum it all up, Harper has been as perfect a ballplayer as one could ask for in the beginning of this 2015 campaign.
Thrust upon the cover of Sports Illustrated six years ago and dubbed “The Chosen One” at just 16 year old, Harper entered the pros with perhaps some of the loftiest expectations ever placed on a player. Remember, this was a guy who was playing college level baseball when he should have been in high school and taking campus tours. This was a guy who was hitting moonshot home runs, lighting up radar guns, running the bases with blazing speed and playing multiple positions with ease before he could even drive a car.
Harper was supposed to be the greatest baseball player to ever set foot on a field years before he even got drafted.
While that is not the case now, Harper is certainly closer than ever to living up to the hype that just a year ago had the baseball world second guessing itself for placing on the now-22-year-old in the first place. He is playing in an other-worldly manner and everyone else can do nothing but watch in amazement and disbelief – especially those who thought he was overrated not so long ago.
With his play on the field at an all-time high and his actions on and off of it toned down a bit, we are finally seeing the player we all thought the Nationals star would be.
Bryce Harper is all grown up, people. And the rest of the game needs to watch out.